by Bukola Ogunyemi
Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better, and your better best…
The origin of this well-known rhyme is a matter of dispute, but the message is not – there is always room for improvement, no matter how good a thing seems or how well a person is doing. It is a call to the relentless pursuit of perfection.
Lagos is a country – this has become more of a reality than just a saying for the $91 billion economy cramped within the smallest state in Nigeria. Lagos houses over 12 percent of Nigeria’s 170 million population all cramped into the nation’s smallest landmass when comparing states. Lagos accounts for over 60 percent of all industrial and commercial activities, and a quarter of the nation’s GDP. If Lagos were a country, it would be the fifth largest economy in Africa, bigger than Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania, and indeed bigger than 25 African countries put together. Lagos is also one of the fastest growing cities in the world, growing 10 times faster than New York.
Lagos, going by these credentials, has always been faced with peculiar challenges and as such requiring special needs in terms of political leadership. Now on its third governor since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, Lagos has been blessed with exemplary leaders who have approached the development of the state with a relay race mindset rather than a 100m dash. From Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the visionary, who laid the foundation for a financially independent Lagos, when through foresight he put structures in place for the state to finance itself through internally generated revenue (Lagos generates 75% of its revenues without having to depend on federal allocation), to Babatunde Raji Fashola, the demolition man, who set Lagos on the path of economic boom through radical infrastructural development, and now Akinwunmi Ambode, who in 10 months has embarked on building a legacy of unprecedented social development.
5 months into Ambode’s administration, I wrote an opinion piece ranking him and Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna as the top two governors from the class of 2015. A number of people disagreed with my assessment then, but in 10 months Ambode has through his clearly visible and undisputable achievements made his supporters proud, converted unbelievers and silenced all opposition.
It hasn’t been a jolly ride all the way. Despite the amount of work done by his predecessors, Ambode met on a ground a Lagos that was buckling under the pressure of a teeming population and infrastructure that was stretched thin especially on the outskirts. Insurgency in the North and the promise of a better life in Fashola’s Lagos had seen an influx of people into Lagos in the last 2 to 3 years like never before, the traffic situation was hellish and security seriously compromised. The constitutional framework for policing in Nigeria puts the control firmly in the hands of the federal government, but Ambode is not a man given to excuses, so it became a case of “what if we can’t have our own police, we equip yours”. N4.765 billion later, the governor handed security equipment and vehicles over to the state police command and the Rapid Response Squad, including 100 4-door salon cars, 55 Ford Ranger pick-ups, 10 Toyota land cruiser pick-ups, 15 BMW power bikes, 100 power bikes, Isuzu trucks, three helicopters, two gun boats, 15 armoured personnel carriers, revolving lights, siren and public address system, vehicular radio communicators, security gadgets including bullet proof vests, helmets, handcuffs, uniforms, kits and improved insurance and death benefit schemes for officers.
It didn’t take long to see the fruits of that investment. Criminals and hoodlums met their waterloo in the hands of newly equipped and highly motivated police officers. More than 200 arrests have been made since then and crime rate in Lagos has reduced to an all-time low. Ambode’s finest moment as Chief Security Officer of Lagos State however came via his efforts in the rescue of 3 school girls abducted by gunmen from Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary School in Ikorodu. It was a scenario that seemed to Nigerians like a recurring nightmare. Almost 700 days ago, during the dark ages heralded by the ousted Goodluck Jonathan, Boko Haram terrorists abducted over 200 girls from Chibok and despite global demands for their release, the girls are still in captivity. Unlike the former president however, Ambode proved to be the leader the former president never was by rising to the occasion and mobilizing all security agencies in Lagos to go after the abductors and rescue the girls. Six days later the girls were reunited with their parents and Nigerians saw first-hand what is achievable when a leader knows it take more than luck to run a government.
If anyone was still in doubt about his determination to make Lagos a crime-free zone, Ambode had these words for them – Let me warn that the State Government will not tolerate kidnapping or any forms of crime in the State. Our position is clear and unambiguous, Lagos state has the capacity and the will to go after every form of crime and criminality in order to safeguard lives and property in the state.
Anyone who had insight into the prudent use of state resources during the Fashola years could be forgiven for finding it hard to imagine a more frugal regime. But the chartered accountant in Ambode has done just that. One of the governor’s first moves is to reduce the cost of governance in the state by N3 billion monthly. The implication being that in 10 months the state has saved N30 billion which is being re-invested into massive infrastructural development. No wonder then that the state managed to repair a record number of 300 roads in just seven months. The average Lagosian bears witness that there is a road in his area that has been touched since Ambode assumed office. And the show has just started. Just last month the government flagged off the construction of 114 roads in the 57 LGAs and LCDAs in the state at a cost of N17.5 billion.
Another interesting trend visible in Ambode’s Lagos is the synergy and nexus between the different projects being undertaken. In a well thought out, bottom top approach to development, each project complements another and like a master builder, Ambode rests one stone on another for the making of a beautiful edifice. Take for example the provision of security equipment to the RRS and the LightUp Lagos project that has seen crime reduce drastically. Crime thrives in darkness, and the wisdom behind ensuring every street is lighted at night gels perfectly with more efficient policing. Also the introduction of the 112 Toll-Free Emergency Number (the only one of its kind in Nigeria) was backed with the provision of 20 mobile intensive care unit ambulances and 26 transport ambulances. The General Hospitals in the state were also provided with 26 mobile x-ray machines and 22 power generating sets ranging from 350 – 500 KVA to ensure 24-hour power supply.
Ambode has also shown he’s the leader to trust with the task of making difficult decisions especially as it concerns the opportunity cost of certain policies to the welfare of the people. Just this week it was announced that the state will no longer sponsor pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem. He also cancelled an agreement the state had with the NURTW over the operation of the BRT service and backed it up with 434 brand new buses plying the Ikorodu route and easing traffic gridlock on other major roads. The demolition of illegal structures at the popular Oshodi market also lends credence to this assertion.
About N2.5 billion has been spent on the rehabilitation of schools, construction of new classroom blocks and provision of furniture. In addition to that, over 4,000 school teachers were recently employed to add to the human capital in education. The line rail project is well on course for completion by December and a N25 billion Employment Trust Fund was instituted to address issues of unemployment and promote wealth creation through entrepreneurial development.
Perhaps one of Ambode’s biggest wins is in efforts at communicating with the people of Lagos State on his plans and programmes, and sometimes the rationale behind some of the steps taken by his government. It is easy to become aloof once a politician crosses that pedestal between candidacy and the office, but Ambode has shown he is one of a kind. We have seen good administrators who fail at communication, and we have seen poor governments spend obscene amounts on image making and propaganda, but Ambode has mastered the art of backing achievements with effective communication. While his works speak for him, the Governor has not failed to grab the mic himself when he deems it necessary. Two town hall meetings have been held since he assumed office, the first at Abesan and the second at Lagos Island, and he went to great lengths to not only give account of his stewardship, but also feel the pulse of the people and get their feedback.
Alec J. Ross, a key figure in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, it was who said if governments are not engaging in social media, they are essentially ceding influence and power. With Ambode, Lagos has entered an era of digital participatory democracy through socially responsible and strategically responsive use of social media. Not only is he one of the most active public officers on social media in Nigeria, he also has one of the largest following. He has perfected the art of making the people dance to his melody without blowing his own trumpet. The timely manner of his responses to issues raised on social media show he has a media team that that is properly aligned with his vision of accountability in governance.
The vision of Lagos a megacity laid 16 years ago is fast becoming a reality with the pace at which Ambode is going about the business of delivering excellence in leadership. Tinubu was good, Fashola was better, and if what we’ve seen from Ambode’s 10-month reign is anything to go by, the best is well and truly on the way.
Bukola Ogunyemi, a digital marketing executive, writes from Lagos.